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What on earth is a Complexity Advisor?
I recently came across one of the most intriguing job titles I’ve seen in a while: Complexity Advisor. I have to confess, my first reaction wasn’t terribly enthusiastic – it was more along the lines of “not another crazy job title”. However, it stayed with me and the more I explored, the more I realised how urgently we need more people who can actually do this.
We’re all innovating and working with spaghetti junctions of complexity. What could be better than someone to help us to make sense of it all?
A wonderful example of this is Steven Hawking’s role as a member of a team of scientists on a quest to capture the first image of a black hole in the Netflix documentary Black Holes | The Edge of All We Know (well worth watching).
On face value, Hawking’s questions to the team appeared to be ones of clarification, and yet, more often than not, he provoked them to see things from a different perspective, which led to a different outcome. Watching this confirmed the awareness that we all know people like this. Mavericks and visionaries who have the ability to fill the role of Complexity Advisor (or any other crazy job title).
Complexity is not the enemy. It’s our status quo.
With every advancement in tech and science, we create more complexity. The trick is to upgrade our mental models so that we can live with ambiguity and find an elegant simplicity in the midst of it all.
Most of the execs and teams I work with are brilliant at what they do. Their gap is increasingly one of mental models; being able to step back, get the big picture, adapt to a changing context, gain clarity and move on.
None of this is new. It’s always been tough to have perspective when we’re in the middle of it all. What is different is the intensity and pace of change.
What we’re talking about here is emotional agility and agile thinking – two vital mental models well worth developing.
If I look back over the last few years – with the last twelve months being the accelerator, even my role has altered significantly. Increasingly, I’m the thought-partner, sounding board and sense maker working alongside leaders and teams to help them to cut through the noise and find better, smarter ways forward.
The aim is always to simplify without resorting to reductionist thinking, which can be deeply problematic in itself.
“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.” Winston Churchill
Hire Someone Like This
Whilst you may not love the job title, there are nuggets in all of this. If you consider the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability (McKinsey), it’s pure gold. Why? Because we need the rich diversity of lived experiences, mental models, perspectives and skills to challenge the status quo, innovate and thrive.
Over the last decade, we’ve become increasingly obsessed with finding people who are a good fit in our organisations. Don’t do that. Rather, seek out the misfits. Find the people who you would never normally hire.
Unearth the people in your organisation who are deeply frustrated by the old-school constraints imposed on them. People with ‘blindingly obvious originality’ who have a different lens on the world.
Are you a maverick, visionary thinker? You might enjoy Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different by Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger, Founders of Motto, the award-winning brand consultants.
Last, but not least, prioritise innovation! The 50 most innovative companies of 2020 (pre-pandemic) outperformed the MSCI Index by a staggering 17 percentage points over the past year. If we exclude the tech giants (Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix), top innovators’ outperformance was still 13 percentage points.
“The number of companies reporting that innovation is among their organisations’ top three priorities is up 10 percentage points in 2021 to 75%… but only about half of companies are investing behind their aspirations.” BCG – Most Innovative Companies
If innovation is top of mind, BCG’s report is definitely worth a read. You might also enjoy The CEO Innovation Agenda (part two of the same report), which digs into the need for C-Suite to own the innovation cycle.
From a behavioural perspective, which is the foundation of all of this, have a look at our team engagement on Agile Thinking & Innovation – Innovation: Mindset & Toolset. It’s a brilliant programme originally designed for the Kuwaiti Foundation for the Advancement of Science (KFAS), which we’ve re-designed for virtual.
Send me a mail if you’d like to explore this for your leadership team.
Please feel free to comment and share your insight with us and if you know of someone who would also enjoy this edition of LIFT, why not share it?
Until next time, take good care of yourself.